After two full weeks of classes, I can say with pride and honesty: I know 8 whole words in Korean!
Yes, yes, this is extremely slow, but for whatever unknown reason my memory retention functions are not working in Korea. Wait, the reason is known: Koreans love to drink. And eat. And eat while drinking. And drink while eating. It seems that in Korea, alcohol is a way to form attachments, bond, create new memories and friends, and also have fun. Eating is a way to ensure that you can keep drinking. I tried to limit my alcohol intake, and have definitely avoided liquor much more frequently than my Korean counterparts, but I have been persuaded more than once to indulge in mehk-joo (beer – even though I hate it), soju (Korean pure alcohol shooters), and maekgoli (Korean fermented rice wine mixed with pureed fruit and milk). SIGH. A girl has to try to blend in once in a while…
So, despite my best intentions to be a language student extraordinaire, I have become a regular student, special needs. In order to force myself to focus on language more (and simply because I don’t like it) I’ve decided to drop taekwondo class. Let’s all be honest here because everyone laughed when I said it was a required course. A certain someone said “I give it two weeks before you drop.” Well, Certain Someone, you were wrong: it took only one week. I made a promise to myself before I came to Korea that when in doubt, I would trust my intuition about people, circumstances, and my own discomfort. This may be in complete contradiction with the “Korean way,” which necessitates following along and asking questions… um…. well, sometimes never asking questions. Korean-style also means there is never a prepared agenda, list of any information, premeditated plan of action, or headcount. As a woman who has dedicated her career to organizing other people’s lives, this is extremely (I’d love to say “liberating” here, but no) agonizing. At some point (and I knew it would be sooner, not later), I was sure to be unable to comply with the “go-along” request. So, sorry taekwondo, you are out.
I do really need to work on my language skills. My inability to go-along means I must stubbornly adhere to my process of using ginger-phonetics until I am more comfortable sounding out the characters. I do feel like I should have a better grasp on letter sounds and letter combo sounds by the time I leave here, but I’m not foreseeing any real Korean-language conversations, other than “Hello! How are you!!!???” and being able to read and understand the menus at Korean restaurants stateside.
Socially, my adoptee group grows closer in expected and unexpected ways. I can say with honesty, that I find these people to be remarkable, each in their own distinctive way. I think each of us finds ourselves at different places on the spectrum when it comes to processing Korea, our adoptions, our families, and our perspective of self, but I find these nuanced differences to be interesting to observe and to learn from. We’re in the midst of celebrating birthdays in our group, and I do feel like part of my own transplanted family.
Also – I am charmed by the old school dating process here. And also sort of baffled at the same time. Man/woman relations are limited and very strict. Women and men are very rarely permitted to visit each other’s homes, show romantic affection in public, or engage in any lascivious behaviors. Here, a gentleman will carry your purse, let you dress him in a matching outfit if he’s your serious boyfriend, and get you drunk with absolutely zero intention of anything dangerous except making you sing at noribang (Korean private room karaoke). Of course, the pure fact that I (and hundreds of thousands of other Korean adoptees/orphans) exist sort of throws the monkey wrench in for me…. somewhere and somehow, desire still thrives, even if Korean culture chooses to ignore its presence. I, for one, have developed an insidious crush, which sort of resembles my fanatical celebrity crushes of the law school era: impossible to consummate.
For now, I continue to focus on absorbing as much as I can, trying my best to stay true to myself, remembering the reasons why I made the choice to come here, and reinvest in learning as much vocabulary and language skills as possible.
Every couple of years, something happens which reminds me that years ago, before I become obsessed with analysis, brainsports, and learning how to show how two things that are exactly the same are actually different (AKA as learning the Law), I was, like, a helper person. For whatever happenstance reason, the Universe made me a social worker first; fresh from University, there I was in the trenches of social welfare, child abuse, and kids.
Not just any kids, MY kids. They will always be my kids, those children that I was assigned to, whose family histories and social security numbers I had memorized. The children that changed my life in ways I cannot even begin to describe, and whom I will always hope I helped more than I hurt.
I was reminded of My Kids when visiting a public orphanage here in Korea. These children were so similar to some of the kids on my caseload that I was taken back 10 years in time to when I used to visit group homes all day on Fridays. I was taken back 3 years in time to when I was working as a legal intern and would interview my child clients at a facility almost identical to the orphanage in Gimhae. There are over half a million children currently in living and surviving in state-administered foster care in the United States. Every day, I am surprised at how little most people know about the forgotten children in our own society, kids desperate for attention, affection, permanent placements, family love, and stability. It makes me simultaneously grateful for my own blessings and opportunities, and disheartened at the lack of available homes for children without appropriate parents all over the world.
The reasons why children end up in state and private orphanages in Korea are often quite different than in the States. Here, children who are sick, whose families are poor, or whose parents are unmarried (or not married to each other) are often placed for adoption. In the States, CPS intervention comes to assist children who are abused, neglected, or whose families are plagued by mental health or addiction problems. However, the resulting lack of solid, loving homes for kids anywhere continues to trouble me… and re-awaken the grrr in me to dedicate some part of my life to these children… for whatever the good intentions of parents and systems and social workers: institutions, whether they are called “crisis nurseries” or “group homes” or “orphanages” are not good enough places for children to grow up. No “facility” replaces a family. Period.
Maybe it’s more clear to me as an adoptee, but birth is a happenstance accident of the Universe. We are all fortunate or cursed with who ends up being our family… and for those less fortunate, I have to remember part of my heart belongs dedicated to you… Always.
People always ask me: “How are you doing with the food?” Surprisingly, I’m doing great with the food. Just ask the 11 pounds I’ve gained in 14 days! The food is definitely not as spicy as I remember, either because my palate has changed, or because I’m eating a lot of cafeteria food. The major changes are that I miss eating raw vegetables and salads, gravely miss morning coffee, and that I don’t drink much water. Oh, and microwave popcorn was not salty enough.
Here’s the current list of food I miss:
- Tacos, specifically Betos rolled tacos with cheese and guacamole
- Cheetos crunchy cheese curls
- Wedge salad with blue cheese and bacon
- Baked potatoes with sour cream
- Carrots with ranch dressing
- Fuji apples
- Lemons in my water
- Mike & Ikes
- Microwave Popcorn – Movie Theater Butter Flavor
- Dunkin’ Donuts Strawberry Shortcake Coffee (it only comes out in the Spring and I’m gonna miss it =(…)
And here’s a bunch of pictures of food I’ve eaten here which will probably be on my list of “Foods I Miss” as soon as I get back to the States. Aiyah!
It’s hard to believe I’m beginning my second week in Korea. Mostly because it feels like I’ve been here for two months (and believe you me, I’ve spent the money I usually spend in two months in 11 days). It might be because the days are sort of routinized or because there are only a few people to interact with or just because for no particular reason at all. I finally feel like my days/nights are on track and I am sleeping reasonable amounts of time during regular sleeping hours.
I wish I could say I was as adjusted to the 1) lack of sunshine/warmth; or 2) lack of COFFEE. Sigh. A Mr. Coffee 4 Cup drip maker was 38,000 KRW (About $36), which I would have gladly spent if I could have found coffee grounds or filters. Buying the really good flat iron (I’d say it is comparable to my FHI Iron) for 18,900 KRW (about $17) did make me feel a little bit better about the coffee maker….
We are taking several courses that are supposed to be designed with KADs in mind. On Mondays, we are taking Korean cooking classes at a private cooking school. Later, I go to kindergarten with Amanda to do a 30 minute English lesson with the kids. I can already tell this will be my favorite part of the program =) Then, some participants attend English conversation class with some journalism students; the rest of us will have conversation class with English students on Thursdays.
We have KAD Discussion group on Tuesday mornings. I’m not really sure how this will go as it’s the first time facilitating this class and I don’t think the University has thought about how to structure it, or why former participants have asked for this type of class. As the guinea pigs, I hope Inje will be open to our suggestions… Then on Tuesday afternoons, we will take taekwondo. I’m super NOT looking forward to it, but I’m sure there are courses each of us could do without. Tuesday nights we will participate in another English conversation group, but this one will be less structured and more social.
Wednesdays we have two different English language classes at a very basic level. Currently, we’re just learning the alphabet and character sounds, plus learning how to write the characters. Just like when I was a little girl, the professors are concerned with my penmanship. Wherever you go, there you are.
Thursdays are the busiest day for me, especially because I have that allergy to morning-time. We have Korean Culture and History class in the morning, then I have Thursday conversation class, then Korean movie class. The culture book is… um… discussion inducing? The way that it’s written is sort of ridiculous, but it does cover many topics and did make me ask my roommate many questions. Maybe that’s the point???
Fridays we have a music class in the morning with the program director. I’m reserving my opinion on this class for now. Then, in the afternoon, we end our week with Korean grammar, which has been reinforcing our alphabet and writing skills. We are getting some vocabulary in this class and I’ve found it pretty useful.
I know I learn a specific way, and I may or may not be able to fully execute my style of learning in such a short time. I’m setting realistic goals based on the time available and my own knowledge of how I learn and acquire new information. My memory is only served by reading written form and by translating everything into my own phonetics. Basically, my professors and tutors are f*%!ed because I’ll smile along but retain nothing. LOL.
NOTES ON OTHER STUFF
The group mentality thing is starting to weigh on me. But not the Korean group mentality, the “let’s do everything as a group!” It’s just a function of being a student (plus Koreans really do things in groups and pairs) but I find myself needing more downtime than I anticipated so that I don’t go ALAG Twinkie on a Soapbox on these people. Thus far, I’ve been able to keep my Late Onset Tourette’s Syndrome in check, but I can’t promise it will stay that way for the next 12 weeks. I mean, clearly I have no control over my anger-based Tourette’s. LOL.
I do have my own voice in my head here and am loving it. I realize that despite the frustration and demoralization of the past few years, my angst is not the result of not knowing who I am, but more about people expecting me to be different and my own expectation that living other people’s expectations would be satisfying. Here, no one expects me to be any way because I’m a stranger, and while I don’t feel the need to change, I’m sure this experience is likely changing me in tiny, greatly significant ways. I love that my immediate gratification triggers cannot always be satisfied. Sometimes, I just have to slow down to a steady pace instead of a delirious rush. Having time where I’m not over-scheduled or constantly seeking the Next Best Thing Ever has actually reinforced in me more than ever that I DO know who I am at my very core.
And that means: constant movement, constant change… I’m on the same trajectory I’ve always been on, just magnified to some degree. This also means that inefficiency continues to annoy me and that I am always looking for ways to streamline things, make things easier for others (and myself), and I make a lot of charts. I will always really like charts =)
Also, my friends from home continue to be AMAZING at keeping in touch, making me laugh, and making sure I feel like things are normal. I love that we still talk about the same topics as always, still gossip about the same people, still fight about the same things. And yes, you can be on my sh*tlist from 6000 miles away. Don’t even think I won’t make you pay later…
1. Americans are water-obsessed freaks. After nearly two decades of hearing I never drink enough water, I find myself in a country that barely drinks any water. The water glasses are teeny-tiny little four ounce cups and most people do not drink water with the meal but instead use it as a palate cleanse after eating. Walking around with my 50 ounce bottle seems ridiculous, but what is even more incredible is that I am not dehydrated AND nothing bad has happened. Ha!
2. Coffee shops are abundant, but coffee shop decorum is completely different. Instead of ordering at the counter, you take a table like a sit-down restaurant. Prices are high, even for drip coffee. There is no soymilk option. Flavors are limited. Thankfully, there is still my trusty Dunkin’ Donuts… but there is no coconut flavor. Boo. SUPER BOO.
3. My skin likes humidity. All of my random skin flaws have healed themselves. Maybe because I never wear foundation. Maybe because my skin isn’t constantly thirsty. Maybe because living in a dorm makes me remember to remove my makeup every night?
4. I still learn by writing, not be doing. Yup, Koreans can repeat the correct pronunciation of a word 50 mazillion times, I will not hear the difference, distinguish the word from other similar words, or remember anything they have just “taught” me five milliseconds later. I must write the word, write the English meaning, write it in Hangul, and also write it in Gingerified phonetic pronunciation. This is kinda like how I had to paper brief every single case in law school while EVERYONE ELSE IN THE LAW SCHOOL WORLD got to book brief. Yup.
5. Boys are still stupid. Just so you know, you can still be on my shitlist from over 6000 miles away.
6. Electric clothes dryers are the best thing ever in the entire world. I miss mine immensely. Especially when you’re a fat fatty, you need dryers to resize clothing to the correct size and shape.
7. I find it terribly amusing to ask people from other countries what dogs say. Here, dogs say: “Bong Bong.” They think it’s funny that dogs say “Woof woof!” back home.
8. My roommate might be the cutest girl to have ever lived in the world. Her personality is adorable, she has an amazing sense of humor, and is extremely smart. I definitely did not have her patience or balance at 21.
9. Its official: AST (Asian Standard Time) is a real thing. I’ve been on it for the past decade.
10. Americans needlessly smile. On the street, people generally do not smile back. I have this feeling I might look like a buffoon goofily smiling at everyone and everything.
11. A girl can never have enough: lip gloss, nail polish, pairs of tights, short dresses, or head bands. This reminds me… I need to buy head bands.
For those interested, here is my mailing address in Korea (Stalkers: I welcome you to try to find me…)
Currently, I miss:
- American Coffee – Those Dunkin’ Donuts hand drip cups are amazing… but it’s still basically $1.25 per cup! Not a great rate for daily morning coffee…
- Throw blankets
- Fitted sheets
- Wagger-Grace, Border Collie Extraordinaire
- Teen Mom 2 Episodes
- Chicken tacos and cheese quesadillas with guacamole
- Baked potatoes with sour cream and bacon
Tomorrow is Monday and I know I am sure to be excruciatingly busy. I’ve had really good luck texting and calling on my googlevoice number and using my MagicJack (it really IS magic!).
Then we went to fish market and went to eat eel. Well, THEY (everyone else in the group) ate eel while I had some shrimp tempura since I’ve never cared for eel. The eel was writhing in the pan when it was brought out and continued to jump for some time as it was being cooked. We also had some panchan which included silkworm husks, lettuce in sesame dressing, kimchi, greens, and some kind of rice noodle with a mayonnaise type sauce.
We walked through the area of Pusan where the Korean International Film Festival is hosted and say japchae vendors serving on the street. We all regretted sit down lunch!
Next we went to Pusan Tower where we had a great view of the city. At the tower, couples place locks with notes about their love on the chain link fence. Cheesily romantic, like waiting for your long-lost love at the Empire State Building. Hm… do I sound cynical? (And yes, I know I made 520 paper cranes…LOL)
Next week, Amy’s roommate from a few terms ago, Jenny, has offered to take American Jenny and me back to Pusan for cloud mandu soup. I’m still waiting to hear from my tutor, but am currently making plans with my host family; my host did a graduate program in Minnesota in the Twin Cities, so hopefully we’ll have some stories to exchange.
So, today, I’m taking it easy. Called some peeps back in the Desert and am planning on scrubbing the bathroom, watching “TV” and having a Lazy Sunday. As we all know, Lazy Sunday is my favorite day… if only I had bottomless champagne brunch to go with it…
I am here with an amazing group of people. The other adoptees in the program are dynamic, interesting, fun, entertaining, and intelligent. I feel truly blessed to have met Jenny in the airport in Incheon – I’m not sure I would have made the four mile trek from customs to domestic without her! I am actually surprised at how well we all get along and how much the group has gelled into its own little family (not yet rivaling my LSA family =) ) We all seem to be in similar places in our careers – making transitions and questioning happiness. I find them all to be rich with stories and colors and appreciate the depth of each personality to bring something valuable to the program.
I also have really lucked out with my roommate, Kristie (Yun Hee). Not only is she extremely sweet, she has an amazing sense of humor and immediately has adjusted to my sense of humor. I try to ignore the fact that I am at least a decade older than her! Aiyah! She accompanied the adoptee group to dinner last night and helped to order for everyone. We were all so appreciative and had a great time! Today, she posted a picture of us on her FB page and when I translated it through Bing, it said something about me being a glass of wine and something about sheep. Although she is very funny, I’m pretty sure that’s not what she said. At least, I hope not?
We’ve also adopted a tag-along from Miramar named Zayao. Zayao met Jenny and me in the lobby the night we arrived and helped to translate with the security desk so that we could get our room keys. He’s been a great translator and restaurant guide and I think he’s had fun with us too!
Our Orientation gave me a little bit of gravity today. I think since the program here is so affordable, I’m not entirely sure I took the curriculum or the experience itself as seriously as Inje University regards it. We met with the Program Director, Chang Yong Kim, and Coordinator, Jihye Kim, who put together a cadre of tutors and host families for us. For ten adoptees (well, 9 + one significant other), the Program had over 70 applications to work with us. I was overwhelmed with the warmth and dedication of strangers to try to help us adjust and learn. ALSO: Ginger, you’re gonna have to study. All of these people are investing their time to teach me Korean language and I need to work as hard as they are to learn. PERIOD. I need to make my studies non-negotiable. I guess I’ll just be a student forever….
We did watch a video as part of Orientiation on Korean adoptees abroad. I tend to believe this video was more for the benefit of the tutors and host families because it was an extreme generalization of Korean adoption featuring some really extraordinary stories that were not closely representative of the experiences of most adoptees I know. However, I think it did encapsulate some of the stereotypes and prejudices that Korean nationals have regarding Korean adoption (although I am not sure this news piece helped to diminish these problems). It brushed upon some of the reactions I received in 2002 when I last visited Korea and found the locals to be quite harsh regarding my lack of Korean culture and language. Anyhow, the video was at least 10 years old, but I think that many misperceptions about Korean adoption still exist; it seems to be a bit of a mystery here. I’m not exactly sure how I feel on the subject, except to comment that I am baffled that it’s still so baffling to so many people on both ends of the adoption: those in our home countries and those in our Motherland appear to require some more thought on where adoptees fit in.
I’m going to try to take more food pictures. We just started eating cafeteria food today, and I enjoyed lunch, which was rice and fried egg with kim and radish kimchi, and dinner, which was tofu soup, mandu, rice, seaweed, and radish and cabbage kimchi. I’m pretty adjusted to the food, but I gravely miss my morning coffee. The Dunkin’ Donuts here sells single cup drip coffee and I think I’m just gonna have to invest. We all need some creature comforts….